On Tools

On Tools

When you have small boys, you get a window of time when they want to help out with everything (besides laundry and dishes and room cleaning, but, surprisingly, yes sometime to dog-poop-picking-up). When you have an oldish house that you and your wife are slowly renovating–she the design and you the labor–you therefore get a lot of help when you’re sawing and nailing. Of course, saws and tiny fingers do not always make the best playmates and this goes probably quadruple when you’re talking power saws. An electric saw poses a danger even to adults (ask any ER nurse), but they also tend to terrify kids because they’re extremely loud. This all poses a bit of a dilemma because that window when your boys’ highest aspiration is to be a good project helper is a precious time to pass along not just the know-how of completing a carpentry job, but also more broadly the value and pleasure of working and building something.

The solution to this dilemma, I think, is to slow down. Why did we start using power saws in the first place? IMG_2885They were fast and they left a cleaner, more squared edge (although that cleaner, more squared edge really only applies in comparison with a rushed or inexperienced cut with a hand saw). But, in speeding up our work and removing some of the necessary skill, we also removed some of our available company.

A while back, my parents gave me a de-lectrified miter saw they found at a garage sale. It has its limitations. It can only accommodate a 2×4 or a 2×6 at most and it doesn’t always cut smoothly (though that could be user error). But, it does cut straight and fast enough. As I used it earlier in the spring to saw lumber for a bookshelf and my two-year-old squatted right at my elbow to watch, even held the handle and ‘helped’ me make a few cuts, I also couldn’t help but notice that this little hand saw had torn down the barrier of fear that used to keep my boys far from my work (and often crying at the hideous screeching whine).

His presence and interest increased my enjoyment of the task immeasurably and the extra time it took felt golden.


Dispatches from the job market: sales

If a field of work (sales) is so notoriously unattractive to applicants (for reasons like cutthroat compensation packages plus the fact that you’d be, you know, the one person people go to great lengths to avoid [you and the door-to-door religion folks]) that you need euphemisms (business development/lead generation) to re-brand your industry in hopes of attracting applicants, then maybe it’s time to dig deep into what really turns people off at the outset. Surely it’s not the five-letter word. Surely it’s the work itself. Can you re-brand that?

Scraps: Awkward Pauses

I had to cut this from something I’m working on, but it’s a darling so rather than kill it outright, I’ll just let it live here. It came from a paragraph about reviving the art of conversation in a world drenched with communication.

You have to navigate awkward pauses (which, the awkwardness might actually be just the realization that someone needs to venture some vulnerability to keep the conversation moving and, to your mutual embarrassment, neither one of you is brave enough. Hence that feeling you both try to disown by calling it “awkward” rather than “mutual and embarrassing cowardice”).

Music as Salve for Campaign Burnout

Music as Salve for Campaign Burnout

As a great artist does, Gillian Welch has expressed most of what I’d say about politics in a three-verse song, and with far more poetry. I’ve listened to it often in the past weeks. ‘Hard Times’ is the perfect song for when apocalyptic prophets climb up on the politician’s stump. When you’re working hard because of the hope hard work gives you; when you’re sheltered from the worry of the world by some kind of pleasure; when hardship has truly overtaken you; the refrain above it all should be, ‘Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more.’ The skill and repetition of the plow preaches the same gospel that Jesus gave to our worry. Each row has enough worry of its own. Just get to the end before you turn around and start back the other direction and you’ll be all right.

Have a listen and enjoy.


What do I mean when I say ‘the church’?

Especially in my recent posts on politics, I drop the phrase ‘the church’ or ‘the American church’ pretty often. What do I mean by the church? I mean people who call themselves Christians and who pray to God, with a straight face, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.’ This does, of course, presuppose that people be humble and diligent about seeking and submitting themselves to a rigorously holistic vision for such a Kingdom, even and especially the parts that make them uncomfortable. After all, if the Kingdom is going to come to Earth, a journey that would require making some changes around here, it would have to come to each of us, change each of us, since we are of the Earth. That means the Kingdom is going to irritate each of us in some or other ways. The church is the people who choose to be so irritated without resorting to an editorial stance, scratching the itch with a blade that trims away sound and historic doctrine at the same time it trims away prodigious grace.

And, I might add that the church is made up of people who pray this prayer with an idea that they are active participants in the coming of the Kingdom, and this again circles back to humility and diligence, seeking and submission.

Marriage Advice From House, M.D.

Marriage Advice From House, M.D.

On a recent episode of House, M.D. (and by recent episode, I mean an episode from October 2010 that I happened to be watching recently), a patient’s clearly naive husband went to House for marriage advice of all things. His wife had kept hidden from him a huge underlying mental illness and he didn’t know what to do next. Alas, House never was one for patients, much less their husbands and the good doctor was blunt and brief. Their initial exchange, though, turned out to have remarkably sound marriage advice.

‘This is not who I married.’
‘Of course she is, you just didn’t know it.’

To the point as always, House pokes his giant, cane-shaped pin into the bubble that we can somehow know someone through and through before we marry them and so expect no big surprises til death do us part. Marriage is a big change filled with big changes. Buying homes together, planning a family together, navigating the ups and downs of those plans going in unexpected directions, starting new jobs and leaving old jobs all the while having someone watching you handle each transition very up close and personal. Point being that life will draw our character out and not all of it will be a monument to our hardiness and moral fortitude.

But, you’re sill married.

Just because you don’t (and can’t) know everything about someone before you marry them doesn’t make it ok to suddenly throw the future of the marriage into question when something you don’t like surfaces. The problem isn’t that our spouse is flawed, the problem is that we thought we could get away with marrying only the parts of someone that we like. For better or worse, you have to marry a whole person with some mysterious depths. There may be some sea monsters down there, but it’s possible to love someone in such a way that the muck that life may dredge from the deep doesn’t occasion a time to ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about the future, but instead ask ‘how’?

The fruit of working through hardship in marriage rather than running from it is self-evident in any old married couple if we’ll look for it. Survive enough together and a 50- or 60-year old marriage takes on this unconquerable, bulletproof patina (which is good, because circumstances surely don’t get any easier as a couple ages and faces the decline of their health together). Far better, then, to figure out how to move forward rather than to fret over whether to move forward. Because that is, indeed, the person you married. You just didn’t know it.

A Light Switch

Over the past few months, I have seen tragedy visited upon some people I love. Losses unfolding, wholly unwilling, with a suddenness and a sequence that is painful even to know of, much less to live and bear. Sometimes, it seems grief arrives and compounds with what almost seems like a discernible pattern, one that feels nearly punitive or at least intimate in its meanness. Yet, this suspicion of a cruelty set loose in the world is met with almost appalled unbelief because we can’t imagine any sort of God who would lend their power to or withhold it from such hurt. And so pain becomes infuriating. We want an end almost as badly as we want an explanation.

Here, I am tempted to take a typically dour narrative, to say that grief is faithful to press us down into our limits and so confound the parts of us so comfortable with feeling in control, entitled to pleasure and reward. Some might call this a puritanical air, bleak and pitiless. There is, I think, a more helpful purity, though. Instead of a steady, crushing hand, what if we looked at our pain as a light switch, and not one that plunges us into temporary darkness, but one that douses us in that painful light as when someone flips on a lamp while we were still sleeping?

As the comfort of pleasant sleep resolved into a brightly lit room, we would see our world as it truly is, not as we dreamed it, nor as we dreamed our place in it. Pain is all too real and all too near. We are woefully uninsulated despite our best efforts. We may be able to put off some loss of comfort if we are careful with our money (though tell that to so many homeowners in 2008) or if we make all the right choices (though tell that the the magna cum laude graduate with $100k in debt and no way to use their law degree still wetly inked), but the real accosting pains—physical collapse, sudden rejection, death—are always pressing in, biding their time before they irrupt on our such-as-it-is-it’s-mine cultivated lives. In those dreadful moments, we are soaked in the plain light of truth: the most precious things are absolutely out of our control.

In trying to resolve the psychic dissonance of untimely pain, some people find themselves compelled to dismiss any idea of a transcendent God watching them as they bleed. The concept seems so contradictory as to be self nullifying and ridiculous. I say a fellow sufferer can hardly blame them. Hurt drives us into ourselves, or to continue the metaphor, hurt stands us up to face our self, wholly illuminated. There is no place in human logic where pain, especially pain upon pain with no chance to heal, can resolve into the picture of a compassionate God, to say nothing of a loving one. All the sense immanent to us demands the death of God. If we were looking outward at all, we were looking for a god like us, conforming within the extent of what we could understand (and by understanding, give assent). How harrowing to see nothing of the sort and to feel alone in a screaming solitude. And yet.

And yet, the same light by which hurt illuminates us also illuminates the world around us. If this were to reveal a God, it could not look like any god we expected. It would have to be a God able to hold at once a good compassion and our unremitting pain, not just as two like magnetic poles fighting to repel one another, but as a unity without division. It breaks the imagination. For it to be true, we would finally have to face a God who is godlike. Able to be true even as what we can only make sense of as contradiction, a self nullification.

This is the very image of transcendence, the indivisible necessity of a God worth the title. Of course, this is hideously uncomfortable because we suddenly see how far below such a logic our reason operates. Our pain reveals a terrible height. But, the light that engulfs us offers the opportunity to see not a god like us, but something so immense and mysterious we would have missed it, though it had been there all along. This, finally, is a God we could find exhilarating, truly invigorating to commune with. At the end of anger, indignation, and meaninglessness, I find that hurt leaves in me an appetite for this kind of God, one beyond all the immanent sorrow and dead-end logic.

The suddenness of deep pain reveals the great gulf between what we felt in our dream-like comfort and what we cannot ever unlearn about our precarious lives. Our reason can’t touch the bottom of this gap and, reaching in deep enough, we find that everything at hand becomes ultimately futile, an absurd blip we try to make as tolerable as we can. If, at the end of our logic, the chasm still yawns there in its absurdity, we have the opportunity not to reach in, but to step in. This is the leap of faith. This is the chance to discover that a God who makes no sense at all might be the best kind of God imaginable provided you can accept that his goodness and your hurt do not contradict though by all appearances a paradox. If suffering is to leave us with an absurdity, at least this is an absurdity incorporating the hope of goodness. At least this God makes of suffering a start, not a permanent end. Perhaps even a falling up.